Full case report

Fallon v MGN Ltd (No.2)

Reference [2006] EWHC 783 (QB); [2006] EMLR 548
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Eady J

Date of Judgment 10 Apr 2006


Summary

Libel – Meaning – Justification of Chase Level 2 and 3 Meanings – Seriousness of allegations – Adequacy of particulars


Facts

Police investigation of a possible race-fixing conspiracy – C was one of a number of jockeys arrested – also arrested was ex-owner Miles Rodgers, who had been warned off for laying his own horses to lose – D published a table of Rodgers’ bets showing his success rate in laying horses ridden by C and others – C’ said the article implied he was guilty of race-fixing – D pleaded a defence of justification to Chase Level 2 and 3 meanings


Issue

(1) were the words capable of being justified by reference to a Level 3 meaning (sufficient grounds to investigate whether C had conspired with MR to lose races)?
(2) if not, had D pleaded particulars which reasonably supported its Level 2 meaning (reasonable grounds to suspect)?


Held

(1) The article was incapable of bearing a less defamatory meaning than reasonable grounds to suspect (2) The more serious the allegation, the stronger the evidence must be before the court concludes that the allegation is established (3) This principle applies to Level 2 particulars – nudges and winks will not suffice (4) D’s particulars did not build a bridge between MR’s betting and C’s race-riding conduct, and so they were not capable of supporting a case that there were reasonable grounds to suspect C of conspiring with MR to fix races


Comment

The decision builds on the jurisprudence relating to the pleading of particulars in support of a Level 2 meaning by stressing that the evidence, and hence the particulars, must cross a probability threshold commensurate with the seriousness of the allegation. An analogy can be drawn with the rule applying to malice particulars, which is that each particular of malice must raise a “probability” of malice – it must be more consistent with the presence of malice than its absence. In the instant case the Court found the particulars of justification to be largely neutral and consistent with C being innocent. The pleading was also rendered defective by the fact that the D’s race-riding expert contradicted the pleaded case that in the Ballinger Ridge race C appeared to wait for another horse to catch him in the closing straight.


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Instructing Solicitors

Ralph Davis for the Claimant; Davenport Lyons for the Defendant